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What medications can cause erectile dysfunction?

Are you having trouble achieving and maintaining an erection and wondering what’s going on? The answer could lie in your medicine cabinet. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause erectile dysfunction (ED). In fact, some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. list ED as a side effect. It is worth remembering though that every person is different, and a medication that leads to sexual dysfunction in one man may not cause a similar problem in another man.

Erections occur as the result of a complex interaction between nerves, hormones, blood circulation, and sexual arousal. A medication that is given to treat a particular medical condition could also have an undesirable effect on one or more body systems, resulting in ED or increase the risk of developing it.

For example, if a drug interferes with normal blood flow or reduces nerve sensitivity, it could result in sexual performance issues. However, this does not mean that one must either live with erectile dysfunction symptoms or discontinue treatment for a medical condition.

What medications can cause erectile dysfunction? And what should you do if you think medication might be causing problems with sexual performance? Read on to find out.

Is my prescription drug causing my erectile dysfunction?

The list of medications that can cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction is a long one. A physician is the best person to decide whether a particular drug could be causing ED as a side effect. However, the most common culprits are known and include blood pressure medications, antidepressants, and allergy meds.

Here’s some information about the main types of medications that can lead a man to seek erectile dysfunction treatment:

Diuretics and Antihypertensives

These drugs are used to treat high blood pressure. They include thiazides, beta blockers, and water pills. High blood pressure and erectile dysfunction share an intimate relationship.  

Men with ED are more likely to have high blood pressure. Erection problems are common in men who smoke and/or are overweight, both of which are known risk factors for hypertension. In addition, erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra affect blood pressure.

Further complicating matters is the fact that studies show that there is an important psychological component to ED. One study found that when men were made aware that Tenormin (atenolol), a commonly prescribed blood pressure drug, can potentially cause erectile dysfunction, more than 30 percent reported experiencing trouble with sexual performance after hypertension treatment was begun.

However, among the men who were not informed of this potential side effect, only about 15 percent experienced trouble with erections [1] while on atenolol. Therefore, it is believed that knowledge about the potential sexual side effects of a blood pressure medication can lead to anxiety-induced ED.

Psychiatric Medications

Many antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, and anti-anxiety drugs are known offenders in causing ED. Erectile dysfunction is listed as a side effect for medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, Elavil, Valium, and Ativan. These drugs are believed to cause problems with erections through their action on nerve signaling and neurotransmitters as well as by lowering testosterone levels.

Men taking these psychiatric medications may experience decreased libido, failed ejaculation, and/or erectile dysfunction.

Antihistamines and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Antihistamines are commonly used to treat allergies and many of them are available over-the-counter. Antihistamines block the action of histamine, a chemical involved in allergic reactions, but also necessary for healthy erections [2]. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as naproxen and indomethacin are used to treat mild to moderate pain due to arthritis, sports injuries, etc.

Studies [3] have shown that men who take NSAIDs regularly are more likely to have erectile dysfunction.

Other Common Drugs Linked to ED

  • Chemotherapy drugs such as Cytoxan and Myleran
  • Prostate cancer medications such as Lupron and Eulexin
  • Parkinson’s disease medications such as Cogentin, Artane, Sinemet, and Parlodel
  • Muscle relaxants such as Flexeril and Norflex

What other substances or drugs may be causing my erectile dysfunction?

In addition to prescription and OTC drugs, a number of other substances are known to cause ED or worsen the risk of developing this condition. The following recreational and frequently abused drugs have been linked to problems with erections:

Alcohol and Nicotine

Alcohol causes dehydration, leading to a reduction in blood volume as well as an increase in angiotensin, a hormone that has been linked to ED [4]. Alcohol is also a nervous system depressant and it suppresses nerve sensitivity. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to decreased testosterone levels, which can result in reduced sexual drive and function.


Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug globally, and with many states legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, its use is becoming even more widespread. However, research [5] shows that marijuana can have a potentially negative effect on male sexual function through its action on specific receptors in the cavernous tissue of the penis.

Opiates, Cocaine, and Methadone

Erectile dysfunction is common among drug abusers. Studies [6,7] have shown that the prevalence of ED and problems with libido, orgasm, and sexual satisfaction is substantially higher among abusers of prescription medications such as methadone as well as illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine. In fact, one study [8] found sexual dysfunction in 62 percent of men who were both alcoholics and cocaine addicts.

What can I do about my ED?

The good news is that ED is a treatable and reversible condition. There are several erectile dysfunction treatments that are both safe and effective. Here’s what you can do if you suspect a medication you’re taking may be preventing you from obtaining strong, sustained erections.

Discuss sexual function frankly with your healthcare provider

You don’t have to live with sexual dissatisfaction. Be honest and upfront with your healthcare providers. The more they know, the better they can address your symptoms and help you maintain a healthy, satisfying sex life.

Talk to your doctor about alternatives

If you believe a medication may be causing erectile dysfunction, DO NOT stop taking it without consulting your doctor first. Adjusting the dose may be able to relieve erectile dysfunction symptoms or your physician may switch you to a different medication.

Get treatment for ED

If changing medications is not an option, there are many effective therapies for ED available, the most common of which are PDE5 inhibitors such as Viagra, Cialis, and Stendra.

Try other treatments for ED

Sometimes erectile dysfunction pills cannot be used because of potential interactions with other drugs. Some men may not respond to these medications. Others may be unwilling to take these drugs because of the risk of side effects or lack of spontaneity they entail. Other treatment options for erectile dysfunction are available. Medical vacuum erection devices can help solve many issues that men face when dealing with ED. Check with your doctor to see if a medical penis pump is right for you.